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WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today reminded parents and students rushing to meet this year's April 17 deadline to be sure and check out several college-related tax benefits before filing their 2011 returns.

Two tax credits and a tax deduction are available to taxpayers who paid tuition and other expenses for an eligible student during 2011. Because an eligible student can be the taxpayer, spouse or dependent, these benefits can, for example, help workers taking continuing education courses and people returning to school, as well as parents paying for their children's college education.

Given the number of different higher education credits and deductions, the IRS reminds taxpayers to carefully review eligibility requirements so they don't overlook these important college benefits. Tax benefits include the following:

  • The American Opportunity Tax Credit helps pay for the first four years of post-secondary education. Tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other required course materials generally qualify, and eligible students must be enrolled at least half time. Qualifying expenses of $4,000 or more in 2011 can earn a taxpayer the maximum credit of $2,500 per student per year. Even taxpayers who owe no tax can get a payment of the credit of up to $1,000 for each eligible student. The credit is claimed on Form 8863. But the IRS warns taxpayers to avoid an often-costly tax scam, currently being promoted widely to senior citizens, low-income families and church members falsely claiming that refunds based on the credit are available, even if they're not currently enrolled in college and even if they went to school decades ago. In addition, some international students, normally considered nonresident aliens for tax purposes, have been improperly advised that they qualify for the credit.
  • The Lifetime Learning Credit, limited to $2,000 per taxpayer per year, can be claimed based on tuition and required enrollment fees paid for any level of post-secondary education. Because of differences between the two credits and the fact that the American Opportunity Tax Credit usually yields greater tax savings at the undergraduate level, the Lifetime Learning Credit may be particularly helpful to graduate students, students taking only one course and those who are not pursuing a degree. The Lifetime Learning Credit is also claimed on Form 8863.
  • The tuition and fees deduction is available for both full-time and part-time students at all levels of post-secondary education. The deduction of up to $4,000 is claimed on Form 8917.

Each year, a student normally receives a Form 1098-T from their college showing tuition payments and other information.

Though a taxpayer often qualifies for more than one of these benefits, he or she can only claim one of them for a particular student in 2011. Income limits and other special rules apply to each of these benefits. The general comparison table in Publication 970 can be a useful guide to taxpayers in determining eligibility for each of these benefits.

Often, tax credits are more valuable, because they reduce the amount of tax owed, whereas deductions reduce the income on which tax is figured. Tax software can often help parents and students determine which benefit yields the greatest tax savings.

Besides these tax benefits, parents, students and former students who made student loan payments during 2011 can deduct up to $2,500 of student loan interest. Normally, borrowers receive from their financial institution Form 1098-E showing student loan interest paid for the year. This deduction is claimed on Form 1040 Line 33 or Form 1040A Line 18. Income limits and other special rules apply. For example, the student must have been enrolled at least half time in a degree or certificate program. A worksheet in the tax form instructions can help taxpayers figure the deduction correctly.

The student loan interest deduction, the tuition and fees deduction and both tax credits can be claimed by eligible taxpayers, regardless of whether they itemize deductions on Schedule A. These benefits are available to both Form 1040 and 1040A filers. Details on these and other education-related deductions and credits can be found in the Tax Benefits for Education Information Center on IRS.gov.

TaxACT Free Federal and Deluxe Editions will help you determine whether you qualify for these education tax benefits and help you get your biggest guaranteed refund. Start your return now.

You can also use TaxACT's College Tax Whiz to learn about 10 education tax breaks.

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Upcoming Tax Dates

February 2 Individuals who must make estimated tax payments
If you did not pay your last installment of estimated tax by January 15, you may choose (but are not required) to file your income tax return (Form 1040) for 2014 by February 2. Filing your return and paying any tax due by February 2 prevents any penalty for late payment of the last installment. If you cannot file and pay your tax by February 2, file and pay your tax by April 15.

February 2 All Employers
Give your employees their copies of Form W2 for 2014. If an employee agreed to receive Form W2 electronically, have it posted on a website and notify the employee of the posting.

February 2Payers of gambling winnings
If you either paid reportable gambling winnings or withheld income tax from gambling winnings, give the winners their copies of Form W2G.

February 2 Nonpayroll taxes
File Form 945 to report income tax withheld for 2014 on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on pensions, annuities, IRAs, gambling winnings, and payments of Indian gaming profits to tribal members. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules.

February 2 Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2014. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 2 Certain small employers
File Form 944 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2014. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is $2,500 or more for 2014 but less than $2,500 for the fourth quarter, deposit any undeposited tax or pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 2 Farm employers
File Form 943 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2014. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 2 Federal unemployment tax
File Form 940 for 2014. If your undeposited tax is $500 r less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it is more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 2All businesses
Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2014 - Details

February 2Form 720 taxes
File Form 720 for the fourth quarter of 2014.

February 2 Wagering tax
File Form 730 and pay the tax on wagers accepted during December 2014.

February 2Heavy highway vehicle use tax
File Form 2290 and pay the tax for vehicles first used in December 2014.

February 10Nonpayroll taxes
File Form 945 to report income tax withheld for 2014 on all nonpayroll items. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2014. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full.

February 10Certain small employers
File Form 944 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2014. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10Farm employers
File Form 943 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2014. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10Federal unemployment tax
File Form 940 for 2014. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10Employees who work for tips
If you received $20 or more in tips during January, report them to your employer - Details

February 11Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the first 15 days of January.

February 13Regular method taxes
Deposit the tax for the last 16 days of January.

February 17Everyone
Federal Holiday (Washington's Birthday) - Details

February 17Individuals
If you claimed exemption from income tax withholding last year on the Form W-4, you must file a new Form W-4 by this date to continue your exemption for another year - Details

February 17All businesses
Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2014 - Details

February 17Publication 509 (2015)
All payments reported on Form 1099S, Proceeds From Real Estate Transactions. Substitute payments reported in box 8 or gross proceeds paid to an attorney reported in box 14 of Form 1099MISC.

February 17Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in January.

February 17Nonpayroll withholding
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in January.

February 18All employers
Begin withholding income tax from the pay of any employee who claimed exemption from withholding in 2014, but did not give you Form W4 to continue the exemption this year.

February 25Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the last 16 days of January.

February 27Regular method taxes.
Deposit the tax for the first 15 days of February.

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